Coalition “deeply concerned” over makeshift accommodation of unaccompanied children

A group of charities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) has warned that recent reports of refugee and migrant children sleeping on the floors of Government office buildings in Kent is a safeguarding concern.

28/07/21

Coalition “deeply concerned” over makeshift accommodation of unaccompanied children

A coalition of charities and NGOs has condemned the recent reports of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASCs) being accommodated in makeshift facilities as the border crisis in Kent escalates.

According to a report for the BBC, dozens of children have been accommodated temporarily on camp beds and the floors of Government office buildings and hotels.

The Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium said it was “dismayed” that children were accommodated temporarily in these facilities, saying it is unclear what safeguarding arrangements were in place for these vulnerable children.

“We are deeply concerned about putting any child who is on their own with adults in facilities or hotels,” the group said in a joint statement. “This contravenes the protections owed to children under the Children Act 1989. Children cared for under the Children Act 1989 cannot be properly protected and cared for in Government offices or hotels.”

The coalition, which includes voluntary sector organisations such as Coram, The Children’s Society and Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (ECPAT UK), said the Home Office and local authorities must ensure that they take all steps necessary to safeguard unaccompanied children and provide them with protection.

The Home Office is under a duty to safeguard the welfare of unaccompanied children under Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 and local authorities must provide care for children in need in their area.

“The Home Office has consistently failed to provide sufficient funding and support to local authorities to enable them to provide high quality care to unaccompanied children,” the statement read.

“Even though numbers of unaccompanied children arriving in the UK seeking asylum are low, dropping from the previous year and still significantly lower than higher numbers seen in the early 2000s, the situation for children arriving has worsened. Financial and responsibility arguments between national and local government should never take precedence over protecting children from harm.”

“We urge the Home Office and Kent County Council to work together to resolve this situation immediately and ensure that sufficient resource is available to provide appropriate accommodation and support to all children arriving in the UK.”

The statement comes after escalating tensions between the Home Office and Kent County Council, with the latter warning last month that it was close to “breaking point”. At that point, Kent County Council had nearly double the number of UASC children in care the Government says it is safe to have.

Matt Dunkley CBE, Corporate Director for Children, Young People and Education, advised the Council Leader that the pace of arrivals and strain on care services was likely to mean he will no longer be able to safely accept any further new UASC arrivals in Kent, risking a repeat of the situation in 2020, in which the council was forced to stop accommodating vulnerable children crossing the channel after running out of appropriate accommodation.

The Home Office responded by making changes to the National Transfer Scheme, which allocates responsibility for the care of unaccompanied children, with the Home Secretary and Education Secretary encouraging more local authorities to “play their part”.

Despite additional funding and greater clarity for participating authorities as to the number of children to expect and the timing of placements, the scheme remained voluntary.

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